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The Task Ahead Of Hillary Clinton On The DNC's Final Night

Jul 28, 2016
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Many Democratic Party heavy hitters have made their way onto the stage this week, from former President Bill Clinton to Vice President Biden to President Obama, all making the case on behalf of Hillary Clinton. Now it's her turn. Tonight Clinton will formally accept the party's nomination for president and deliver what could be the most important speech of her political career. Joining me now is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hey there, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: And next to me, NPR's Tamara Keith - she's been covering the Clinton campaign since day one. Hey there, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.

CORNISH: Now, what can you tell us about how she's been preparing for her speech tonight and what Hillary Clinton might actually say?

KEITH: Well, according to a campaign aide, she's been thinking about it for several weeks, sending ideas to aides as they've been working on it. Last night after she came out onstage with President Obama, they say she actually went back to her hotel to get back to work on the speech late last night. They expect her to work on it all day today in typical Clinton fashion. We will not get remarks until the very last minute if we get them at all.

And the themes that they expect her to hit are this theme that was in her book in 1996. It takes a village. They see her stronger together - campaign slogan as an extension of that.

CORNISH: All right, we know what might happen here, but Mara, what does she actually need to accomplish?

LIASSON: She needs to accomplish a lot. This is a very high-stakes speech. This is a night she has to reach into herself and reveal something about herself, take her life story and connect it to her vision for America, not just tell us about her five-point plans. She also has to provide a unifying theme for all the things she wants to do. I don't think that she can turn around her honesty and trustworthiness problems with one speech, but she could present herself tonight as more relatable, give people a glimpse of that warm, funny woman the people who meet her in small groups and one-on-one say that she is.

And you know, Peter Hart, who's a pollster that's - who's done many focus groups about Hillary Clinton, talks about a glass curtain. She talks about the glass ceiling. He says voters feel there's a glass curtain between themselves and Hillary Clinton. They can't relate to her. They feel they don't really understand her, and that's made it easier for her opponents, of which there have been many over many years, to define her the way they want to.

CORNISH: All right - glass curtain - that's a new one for me (laughter). Tamara, is this a heavy lift based on what you've seen of Hillary Clinton on the trail?

KEITH: Well, even she has talked about not being a natural campaigner. And she has this big shadow because her husband, the former president, and President Obama both are natural campaigners. And so this is a challenge for her. She - she's also - she - as Mara talks about, she sometimes struggles with the big theme. She loves talking about her plans, and she often is very focused on sort of the smaller things that could be quite valuable in governing but aren't so good in big speechmaking.

CORNISH: Now, we're forgetting here that this is a moment of historical significance, right? I mean Hillary Clinton will be the first woman to lead a major party ticket. How does she factor that in?

KEITH: So earlier this week, she was at the VFW convention, and she had this line in her speech that I think gets at the some of her discomfort with this. She says I know that this is the first time that one of our two major parties has ever nominated a woman, and that takes some getting used to even for me. And I think that she has to somehow figure out a way to talk about it. She doesn't like being a symbol, but in many ways, that's what tonight is about.

LIASSON: You know, everyone I've talked to here says don't overplay the historic moment theme. It works with older women, many of whom are in the hall, doesn't necessarily work with younger women. It's also been talked about a lot this week. They say she needs to build on the solid foundation that the president and the vice president and Michelle Obama gave her this week. It doesn't matter if their speeches are better if she can bring something up out of herself.

CORNISH: And Mara, before I let you go, who are the other speakers that are notable tonight?

LIASSON: Well, you know, what's interesting tonight - there's a section - a tribute to fallen law enforcement officers. They're going to honor the police. This is something that the Democrats have been criticized for omitting, but here it is. So in addition to the Mothers of the Movement, the mothers of unarmed children who killed by police officers, we're also going to hear about fallen law enforcement officers.

And we'll hear from family members of a solider, 1 of the 14 American-Muslims soldiers killed serving in the United States military since 9/11. We'll also hear from Chelsea Clinton, who will introduce her mother and...

CORNISH: Mara, I'm going to stop you there.

LIASSON: ...Katy Perry.

CORNISH: (Laughter) OK.

KEITH: Katy Perry - yes.

LIASSON: Katy Perry - there's always an entertainer.

CORNISH: The kicker - NPR's Mara Liasson and Tamara Keith, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.